Hawaii, Alaska lead states with the most public beaches per capita

Published 3:00 pm Thursday, June 29, 2023


Hawaii, Alaska lead states with the most public beaches per capita

When the forecast calls for searing temperatures, nothing sounds more appealing than a day at the beach—but that’s not always easy to achieve, depending on which state you live in. While going to the beach might be an everyday activity for a Hawaiian or Floridian, it might be more of an undertaking for someone in a landlocked Midwestern state, even if their state does have a lake with a beach.

There are 5,525 public beaches in the U.S., totaling more than 5,000 miles of shoreline—but where are those beaches clustered? To find out, GetMyBoat counted the number of public beaches monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency in each state. To be included, each beach needed to be a public beach accessible to the general population.

The EPA examines coastal recreation waters in 30 states along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts as well as the Great Lakes. Most of the states in the top five are cooler-weather states that have shorter summer seasons—although a walk in the sand can be just as pleasant in the fall or spring.

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Keep reading to discover which state near you has the most public beaches per capita. Who knows—it might just give you the inspiration you need for an upcoming weekend getaway.

Map showing how many public beaches per million residents can be found in each U.S. state. Hawaii, Alaska, and northern and coastal states have the most beaches per 1 million residents.


Northern states offer the most public beaches per capita

With the exception of Hawaii, states in the Northern U.S. have the five highest amounts of public beaches per capita. Alaska’s whopping 33,904 miles of shoreline, including its islands, compared to its relatively low population help it take second place on the list. You’ll also see states bordering the Great Lakes—like Michigan and Wisconsin—crack the top 10, in a reminder that beaches don’t necessarily have to be oceanfront.

A lifeguard stand on a beach with the Chicago skyline in the background.


#25. Illinois

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 5
– Total public beaches: 57
– Miles of public beach: 16.79

Though Illinois doesn’t border an ocean, it does have 63 miles of shoreline on Lake Michigan. Chicago’s public beaches are particularly popular, with residents playing volleyball at North Avenue Beach and paddleboarding off of boat-free Hollywood Beach.

An aerial view of the beach in Ocean City.


#24. Maryland

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 5
– Total public beaches: 29
– Miles of public beach: 16.73

This mid-Atlantic state offers plenty of beaches for locals and tourists alike, including summer vacation destinations like Ocean City Beach, fishing favorites like Sandy Point, and campgrounds with beaches like Rocky Gap State Park Beach. Maryland is also home to Assateague Island National Seashore, where wild horses roam.

A pier going out to the beach at Grand Isle State Park.

MarynaG // Shutterstock

#23. Louisiana

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 5
– Total public beaches: 24
– Miles of public beach: 21.86

Just because Louisiana is better known for its swamps doesn’t mean the beaches are anything to sniff at. The pristine beaches at Grand Isle State Park are particularly popular with fishermen, thanks to the 400-foot pier, while campers can set up tents right on the sand at Rutherford Beach.

An aerial view of the Virginia Beach boardwalk.


#22. Virginia

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 5
– Total public beaches: 47
– Miles of public beach: 36.53

The eponymous Virginia Beach is this state’s best-known beach; it even holds the title of the world’s largest pleasure beach in the Guinness Book of World Records. The 3-mile-long Virginia Beach boardwalk is a magnet for tourists, but if you prefer a quieter, more serene getaway, you might explore Chincoteague Island. Located just south of Virginia’s Assateague Island, Chincoteague is home to wild ponies—you’ll often see them grazing the shoreline.

An aerial view of Galveston on the beach.


#21. Texas

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 6
– Total public beaches: 167
– Miles of public beach: 331.35

With 367 miles of shoreline along the Gulf of Mexico, Texas has an abundance of sandy beaches. Corpus Christi is a particularly popular beach destination, with options that offer all of the bars, restaurants, and amenities tourists love, like North Beach, as well as more natural, unspoiled beauty, like Padre Island National Seashore.

Palm trees and people on the beach in Newport Beach.


#20. California

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 6
– Total public beaches: 242
– Miles of public beach: 362.38

Given Southern California’s pop culture dominance, it’s easy to equate the Golden State’s beach culture with Venice, Santa Monica, or Malibu. But overlooking Northern California’s shoreline would mean leaving out some truly incredible natural landscapes, including Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, Bodega Dunes in Sonoma Coast State Park, and Enderts Beach in Redwoods National Park.

A crowded beach on Lake Erie.

MILA PARH // Shutterstock

#19. Ohio

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 6
– Total public beaches: 75
– Miles of public beach: 43.74

Thanks to Lake Erie on its northern border, Ohio has 313 miles of shoreline—though only a fraction of that is publicly accessible. Come summer, Ohioans flock to public beaches like Kelleys Island State Park, which boasts a small beach a short walk from the campground, and Maumee Bay State Park, which has beaches along Lake Erie as well as an inland lake.

Red tractor bikes and colorful umbrellas on Biloxi Beach.


#18. Mississippi

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 7
– Total public beaches: 21
– Miles of public beach: 34.50

The white sand beaches, excellent deep-sea fishing, and 24-hour casinos in Biloxi make it a popular beach destination for Mississippians and visitors alike. Though that town has the state’s most well-known beach, Gulfport and Bay St. Louis are also local favorites.

An aerial view of the Hamptons coastline.


#17. New York

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 11
– Total public beaches: 217
– Miles of public beach: 104.37

The Empire State is perhaps best known for the beaches in the Hamptons—where those among the richest 1% summer alongside 20-somethings escaping humid New York City—but that’s not all New York has to offer. Drive about seven hours northwest of the Hamptons and you’ll discover that Rochester also has sandy public beaches—just on Lake Ontario rather than the Atlantic Ocean.

An aerial view of Hampton Beach.


#16. New Hampshire

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 11
– Total public beaches: 16
– Miles of public beach: 8.76

Most weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day, traffic will be backed up on I-95 with lines of beachgoers just trying to make it to Hampton Beach. Other, perhaps less crowded, New Hampshire beaches include rocky Odiorne Point State Park Beach in Rye and Brewster Beach on Lake Winnipesaukee.

A beach on Lake Superior.

Laura Marland Photo // Shutterstock

#15. Minnesota

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 14
– Total public beaches: 80
– Miles of public beach: 58.02

The Minnesota side of Lake Superior boasts a few unique beaches. There’s Black Beach, which features charcoal-colored sand that was created by taconite waste rock dumped into Lake Superior decades back. On the other end of the spectrum, Iona’s Beach Scientific and Natural Area has smooth, pale pink rocks instead of sand. Pieces of a nearby rhyolite cliff that fell into the lake formed this special surface, and the sound of the waves crashing on the beach tinkles like tiny bells.

A beautiful beach with mountains in the background.


#14. Oregon

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 19
– Total public beaches: 80
– Miles of public beach: 206.32

The Pacific Northwest has some truly stunning beaches, including Oregon’s Cannon Beach, which is home to Haystack Rock—a 235-foot basalt sea stack rising from the ocean. Visitors can often spot tufted puffins on the rock in spring and summer, as well as nearby tide pools filled with colorful marine life. The Oregon Dunes is another of the state’s most popular beach destinations—and is one of the largest temperate coastal sand dune systems in the world.

People walking on a beach lined with large homes.


#13. Connecticut

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 20
– Total public beaches: 72
– Miles of public beach: 15.47

The gem of Connecticut’s beaches is no doubt Hammonasset Beach State Park, with a boat launch and more than 2 miles of shoreline for swimmers, fishers, and campers to enjoy. Old Saybrook Town Beach is another local favorite, thanks to the nearby town’s charming feel.

An aerial view of Atlantic Beach.


#12. North Carolina

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 20
– Total public beaches: 214
– Miles of public beach: 345.46

The long chain of barrier islands off the North Carolina coast makes this state a haven for ocean lovers. Some of the most popular destinations include Emerald Isle, a family-friendly destination with plenty of beach amenities like grills and fishing piers; Bald Head Island, a serene car-free island only accessible by ferry; and Cape Hatteras, a 70-mile stretch of unspoiled beaches with a signature black-and-white striped lighthouse.

A couple watching the sunset on a bench at Bethany Beach.


#11. Delaware

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 23
– Total public beaches: 23
– Miles of public beach: 23.85

Although Delaware has relatively few miles of public beaches, what the state lacks in size it makes up for in charm. Beachgoers can swim at Herring Point Beach in Cape Henlopen State Park, or go for a hike to the scenic overlook at the point. If you prefer watersports, Delaware Seashore State Park might be more up your alley: It’s ideal for surfing, kayaking, and windsurfing.

Turquoise water, white sand, and blue umbrellas in Clearwater Beach.


#10. Florida

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 25
– Total public beaches: 550
– Miles of public beach: 845.97

Thanks to its seemingly endless coastline, Florida offers tons of beaches for locals and tourists to choose from. Siesta Key‘s white sand beaches have been voted some of the best in the country, while Panama City Beach‘s party vibe is popular with spring breakers and girls’ getaways. There truly is something for everyone, from Key Largo for scuba divers to St. Augustine for history buffs.

A boardwalk leading to the beach at Lake Michigan.


#9. Wisconsin

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 32
– Total public beaches: 186
– Miles of public beach: 58.38

Wisconsin’s beaches on Lake Michigan range from urban escapes to remote getaways. For the former, check out North Beach in Racine: The soft sandy beach just a few blocks from downtown features volleyball courts, a kids’ playground, and a snack bar. On the other hand, nature lovers will want to visit Schoolhouse Beach on Washington Island, in the state’s northernmost reaches. This isn’t a sand beach, but one covered in smooth limestone rocks that can be stacked into a different version of sandcastles.

Birds on the beach at sunset.


#8. Rhode Island

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 42
– Total public beaches: 46
– Miles of public beach: 21.73

Much smaller than many other states on this list, Rhode Island nevertheless has some impressive coastal scenery. Narragansett Town Beach‘s gorgeous sandy beachfront epitomizes the classic New England summer experience. Block Island—accessible by either ferry or plane—is another popular destination. Visitors love hunting for the 550 glass floats hidden all over the island, as well as enjoying the dramatic views of the Atlantic Ocean from the 200-foot cliffs at Mohegan Bluffs.

Pastel bicycles on the boardwalk on the beach.


#7. New Jersey

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 47
– Total public beaches: 437
– Miles of public beach: 182.77

The Jersey Shore is such a popular summertime destination, the nightlife even inspired an MTV reality show. In addition to Ocean City and Seaside Heights, other beloved New Jersey beaches include Asbury Park, known for its kitschy vintage feel, and Cape May, praised for its stunning architecture.

North Beach in Leland.


#6. Michigan

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 58
– Total public beaches: 580
– Miles of public beach: 429.12

Michigan’s beaches truly have a personality all their own. There’s Holland State Park, located nearby the town of Holland, where all things Dutch—including tulips and windmills—are celebrated. In Traverse City, cherries are the talk of the town: The area is home to much of the state’s cherry production and hosts the National Cherry Festival every July. Farther north in the Upper Peninsula, you’ll find even more well-preserved coastline, like Twelvemile Beach.

An aerial view of Cape Cod on the water.


#5. Massachusetts

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 62
– Total public beaches: 435
– Miles of public beach: 132.56

Between Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts has developed a reputation for its world-class beach destinations. If you’re not lucky enough to know someone with a summer house there, though, you still have plenty of options. Head to Manchester-by-the-Sea to find Singing Beach, where the sand makes mysterious sounds when you step on it. Or, take a walk on Crane Beach near Ipswich, where the protected piping plovers make their nests.

A pier in Old Orchard Beach.

Jon Bilous // Shutterstock

#4. Maine

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 68
– Total public beaches: 94
– Miles of public beach: 31.58

Thanks to Maine’s various coves, bays, and indentations, the state has nearly 3,500 miles of coastline. In southern Maine, you’ll find white sandy beaches with lots of tourist amenities, like Old Orchard Beach and Ogunquit Beach. Drive several hours north, and you’ll discover the Bold Coast of Downeast Maine, known for rugged, granite cliffs and rocky shoreline.

La Push Beach lined with logs and surrounded by forest.


#3. Washington

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 142
– Total public beaches: 1105
– Miles of public beach: 954.09

With the Pacific Ocean along its western border and the Salish Sea, Puget Sound, and various other bays on its northern border, Washington has a truly awe-inspiring amount of coastline. Some of the most stunning natural landscapes can be found in the 70 miles of wild coastline in Olympic National Park, including the tide pools at Kalaloch Beach and Hole-in-the-Wall at Rialto Beach. Islands like Orcas Island, Whidbey Island, and Camano Island are also lovely vacation destinations.

A beach trail with snow-capped mountains in the background.


#2. Alaska

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 274
– Total public beaches: 201
– Miles of public beach: 313.97

With the most shoreline of any state by a long shot, Alaska has the second-most beaches per capita. Though the Last Frontier has plenty of public beaches, very few are swimmable—you might need to find a freshwater lake for that. Whittier is known as the gateway to Prince William Sound, offering jaw-dropping views of tidewater glaciers calving as well as marine wildlife like seals, whales, and seabirds. Buskin River Beach on Kodiak Island is a hotbed for salmon—and therefore brown bears. Eagle Beach in Juneau has panoramic views of the Alexander Archipelago as well as dozens of bald eagles.

People with surfboards in the clear blue water on the beach.


#1. Hawaii

– Public beaches per 1M residents: 284
– Total public beaches: 409
– Miles of public beach: 305.16

It’s only fitting that the Aloha State would take the top spot on this list—after all, the Hawaiian islands have become synonymous with beachfront paradise. Oahu’s Ko Olina has placid lagoons that are perfect for kids to splash around in, while Maui’s Kapalua Bay is ideal for watersports like boogie boarding, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding. Admire the Big Island’s volcanic origins at Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach, or take in the enormous waves beloved by professional surfers at Waimea Bay on Oahu’s north shore.

Data reporting by Elena Cox. Story editing by Jeff Inglis. Copy editing by Tim Bruns. Photo selection by Lacy Kerrick.

This story originally appeared on GetMyBoat and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.